The hills are alive with the sound of engines

My own romantic self-projection is a clear image of me driving a Maserati 300S on Spa Francorchamps, while all my friends take shifts tending to the car in the paddock and in the pits, when they are not partying or relaxing in my 1950’s Fiat transporter. Some of my friends also drive the car for stints in the Spa 6-hours, and the girls …. Wake-up call: I don’t have that kind of money, but you should all wish; because I would spend it it all – and then some.

Instead I try to get this little Giulietta Sprint transformed into a Sprint Veloce and I use the best opportunities to go and prepare for high-quality track experience. Because – as I suspect you have realized – I find historic motor racing very interesting, and I love to improve my car by the simplicity of the “Italian tune-up”.

The italian tune-up:

You’ve sunk your next five years’ paychecks into this sweet Italian beauty and you’re not going to abuse it, by golly. You shift at 2500 rpm and never go over 110 kmh. To prove your point, the car needs tuning so often now that if you really put your foot into it you’re sure something would explode. That’s Italian cars for you. Somewhere, right now in Italy, someone’s driving exactly the same car as yours. His right foot is pressed firmly to the floor, where it has been for the last three hours. The rubber on the brake pedal shows no perceptible wear. The speedometer and tachometer are both trying to bury themselves offscale. His arms are weary from cranking the wheel back and forth as he negotiates the mountain roads. His eyes gleam and his heart is glad for he has never once had cause to do more than regular maintenance to his thoroughbred of a car that has uncounted kilometers on its engine. He’s right and you’re wrong!”

 

Sleepy hills outside our hotel windows

Sleepy hills outside our hotel windows

Gert Sterner and I had driven from Nürburg the evening before, and we arrived at a wonderful hotel on the banks of a little river in a green valley. Jørgen and Søren Østergaard were already here and their Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 was sitting as a nice decoration behind the hotel among many trailers with hot Alfa Romeo race cars. We were greeted by organizer Ralf Bertelsbeck in the parking lot in front of the Hotel, and he told us that the participant list was overwhelming and that it would become a wonderful day tomorrow. We absolutely agreed and went to the bar for a Bierre Trappiste (we settled for a couple of Chimay Bleus, for those of you who need to know). The following morning we had breakfast with Jan Paustian and Daniele Dezzi who had trailered a Giulia Super racer and a Giulietta Spider for a customer in Brussels. The Østergaard Porsche-guys (father and son) were there and Claus Hermann had arrived in his Peugeot 205 GTi – and we knew that other danes would meet us at the track. We took the twisty route over the Ardennes hills with the Carrera RS while the Stelvio truck-and-trailer had to go all the way around on their half-hour trip to the Francorchamps entrance; and we were consigned with the task of establishing a Stelvio camp in the paddock.

Preparation for a whole day of open pit-lane

We got our tickets (wrist-bands), car number stickers and a red or yellow decal that would indicate if we rode in the roll-cage or road-car groups – and we would have to pass a decibel test before earning access to the track. So before long the windshield was all-decaled in the upper right corner. I drove in the first group and stayed out until my calculations told me that I was just about to run out of fuel, which pretty much coincided with our roll-caged stint ending. Apart from some presumably revered customers, who hadn’t yet come around to buying Alfas, the track was soon swarming with wonderful competition Alfa Romeos. The predominant model was the tipo 105 family of Giulia Berlina, Sprint and Spider, and they were mostly bloody fast. I had seen many of them at race tracks and on youtube videos from historic motor racing venues, and it was a tremendous pleasure to ride among them on such a fantastic track as Spa Francorchamps.

Street cars, race cars and sports cars in a sweet mix

Somebody told me, but I don’t recall, how many cars actually took part. It must have been 150-200 cars all-in-all in the paddock, and some were very professional in their approach – some of the cars were extremely expensive and rare. I felt very privileged to be part of such a splendid spectacle. There were four Giuliettas; a seemingly very original Sprint that went easy and must have been a joy to drive; leaning over in every corner and looking absolutely smart as it zoomed around amongst the more brutal machines, another scruffy racer like mine – and a Sprint Zagato. The latter was silver, tiny and angry and might very well have been the most expensive car of the lot. It went very fast to begin with – and then slowed down during the day … or I went faster?! I went in and out many times during the afternoon when the pitlane was opened, and we just lined up for another stint when we felt like it. But I also had time to walk around and take in the whole atmosphere and admire all the cars and their passionate drivers and mechanics.

Lining up for another round of italian tune-up

Lining up for another round of italian tune-up

I have been to Spa three times before; for the annual SpaItalia meeting in 2003, 2006 and 2009. At these events we also drive the track, and the last two times I did the smart thing and signed up for “Corsa” instead of “Turismo”, so I did know the track layout and was a bit intimidated after having found that my Vredestein Sprint Classic tires weren’t really made for high speed track driving. They could take two laps of Nordschleife – but not more. Or was I just being a pussy? Anyway, I got some advise from Laurent, a frenchman who had a car like mine at home; “Go for the Avon CR6ZZ”, he said. “They are road legal and they will never let you down on track”. But they are €200 a piece for size 15X155, just like Dunlop Racing 15L, whereas the Vredesteins are less than €100. As you will see in the next video, my tires weren’t ruined, but it was quite scary on the track. They had very nice bite for a couple of fast laps or three, and then they would go off. Braking was serious business right from the first corner, but when the tires began to slip and slide, the braking became much harder to predict, and on a couple of occasions I genuinely feared going straight into the gravel. Except, on Spa you just take the wide line way onto the extra tarmac, and you have to be exceptionally unlucky to end up in the barriers – unlike on the Nordschleife, where there’s a direct hit after three milliseconds!

Extremely fun and extremely high style – it’s an epic place to be photographed

In total I recorded 32 gigabytes of video, and I have now edited that into these four videos (the last one will be published shortly). My buddy Gert Sterner recorded 192 Gb of video, but he also ran 25 laps on the Nürburgring and drove the sun black on Spa Francorchamps. It all calls for a disciplined approach to data management, and we have learnt the hard way to name, sort and back up files with caution. This also means that every night it takes a few hours to retrieve data and make sure that all can be cataloged and edited when we return. I’ve had bits of video and photos sent from some of the other participants, and I have nicked a bit of Marcel’s footage from youtube. It’s a lot of fun for me to publish these videos, and I’m a sucker for the attention. Just wait until I get that Maserati 300S …

Checking our catch of the day and getting ready for the home run

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